Oppenheimer: We Must Help Alluvial Diggers

Alluvial diamond diggers have to be brought into the “formal diamond industry,” De Beers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer said at the recent meeting of CIBJO, the World Jewellery Confederation.

“Millions of people in central and West Africa and in parts of South America are engaged in small-scale digging, often in unacceptable circumstances of poverty, at risk to their lives and subject to human rights abuses,” Oppenheimer said. “Neither governments nor local communities, nor even the diggers themselves, derive benefit from these activities. Diggers do not receive fair prices for the product, and governments do not receive their proper share through taxes and royalties.

“We cannot stop or prevent people from digging,” he added. “We need to devise ways to embrace these activities into the legitimate, official, formal industry.”

Oppenheimer noted that the diamond industry is working with nongovernmental organizations and governments on the Diamond Development Initiative to address these issues. But he warned: “Without the united backing of the whole industry, such initiatives are unlikely to succeed. … If we are not working proactively together to address problems that both affect our business and create real human suffering, we will—in the court of public opinion—be considered complicit and guilty by association.”

About a week after Oppenheimer’s speech, the New York Times ran a story about Sierra Leone diggers on the front page of its popular Sunday newspaper. The story, “Diamonds Move From Blood to Sweat and Tears,” said that alluvial diggers in Sierra Leone still “work for little or no pay, hoping to strike it rich but caught in a net of semifeudal relationships that make it all but impossible that they ever will.”